Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer happens when normal cells in the bladder change into abnormal cells and grow out of control.

Symptoms of Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer causes mild symptoms that can come and go.  These include:

  • Blood in the urine, which makes your urine look pink or red
  • Pain on the sides of your back or above your pubic area
  • Pain when urinating, urinating often, or leaking urine

These symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not bladder cancer.  But if you have any of these symptoms, you should be checked by a doctor or nurse.

Diagnosis of Bladder Cancer

I have some of the symptoms, what should I do?

There are tests your doctor can use to look for bladder cancer.  These include:

  • Urine tests – urine tests show what kind of cells are in the urine.
  • X-rays, CT scans, or other imaging tests – these tests create images of the entire urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, ureters, and the bladder. They can show tumors or abnormal growths.
  • Cystoscopy – Cystoscopy is a procedure that allows the doctor to look directly inside the bladder. To do a cystoscopy, the doctor inserts a small tube into the urethral opening, the opening through which urine leaves the body.  Then he or she pushes the tube up into the bladder.  The tube has a tiny camera that projects images of the bladder onto a screen.  If the doctor sees anything unusual, he or she might take a sample of tissue (called a biopsy) to look at under the microscope.

Treatment of Bladder Cancer

Once the diagnosis of bladder cancer is confirmed, the treatment depends on the cancer stage and grade.  Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out how far a cancer has spread.  Grading refers to the way the cancer looks under the microscope.  The right treatment for you will also depend on how old you are and whether you have any other medical problems.

People with bladder cancer often have 1 or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery – bladder cancer is usually treated with surgery. Depending on how large the cancer is and how far it has spread, doctors can do 1 of 3 things:
    • Take out the cancer and leave the bladder in place. In many cases this is done through cystoscopy.  Usually this procedure has no impact on the ability to urinate.
    • Take out the cancer and a part of the bladder. This option depends on how much of the bladder is involved.  After this procedure, people can often urinate normally.
    • Take out the cancer, the bladder, and nearby internal organs. This option might be necessary for people with advanced bladder cancer.  With this type of surgery, the surgeon also has to create a new way for urine to leave the body, because the bladder has been removed.
  • Medical Therapy – Medicines are an important part of treatment for people with bladder cancer. Doctors use different medicines depending on the extent of the cancer.
    • For people with very early bladder cancer that has not spread into the bladder muscle (called “superficial bladder cancer”), medicine is given directly into the bladder.
    • For people with cancer that invades the bladder muscle, chemotherapy should be given before surgery. This can shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove.
    • For people with invasive bladder cancer who did not go through chemotherapy before surgery, chemotherapy can be given once they are healed from surgery.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells.